Diaz Faces Uphill Battle To Unseat Vas

PERTH AMBOY – Next week, Perth Amboy voters will decide who will be the city’s mayor for the next four years. Joseph Vas has served in the city’s executive office for nearly 18 years, but faces a challenge from political newcomer Wilda Diaz this year.

Diaz, 43, acknowledges that she is an underdog. Vas has a well-publicized record of involvement in major city improvement projects and is considered one of the most prolific fundraisers in Middlesex County.

“The mayor’s been here for a long time already, and a lot has happened in the city,” Diaz said. “And I see a need for change. I don’t have the money they have, so it’s a lot to overcome. But I know I can do the job if I have the chance.”

As of last month, Diaz had raised about $21,000; according to filings with the state, Vas has a war chest of more than $780,000.

Diaz and Vas are both Perth Amboy natives. Diaz has worked in banking for more than 20 years, and had been the assistant vice president of Banco Popular in Elizabeth until recently. Vas is also an assemblyman representing New Jersey’s 19th District, which includes Woodbridge, Carteret, Sayreville and South Amboy as well as Perth Amboy.

Last week at a forum for high school seniors – some of whom will be voting for the first time this May – Diaz told the students, “I’ll be a mayor not worried about Woodbridge or Carteret. I’ll be worried about you. I’ll be here working 24 hours a day.”

Vas told the students, “I’m working not full-time, but overtime [for Perth Amboy].”

The mayor has been endorsed by a host of local Democrats, including U.S. Rep. Albio Sires, Assemblyman John Wisniewski, Middlesex County Democratic chairman, Sheriff Joseph Spicuzzo, Perth Amboy Democratic Chairman Ray Geneske and Perth Amboy City Council members Geraldine Bolanowski, Frank Sinatra and Robert Sottilaro. Vas has also picked up several union endorsements.

Diaz has been endorsed by the Perth Amboy PBA Local 13 and a student group at Perth Amboy High School.

The campaign has turned increasingly negative as Election Day comes closer. Diaz has made criticizing Vas the cornerstone of her campaign, and Vas recently sent a glossy flier to residents’ homes which depicted Diaz and her running mates in a negative light.

Vas has been widely credited as having led efforts to transform Perth Amboy from a crumbling, industrial wasteland into a vibrant hub with new development projects. Diaz contends that developers behind the city’s major development projects – some of whom have donated to Vas’ campaigns – have profited more than Perth Amboy residents.

The veteran mayor could be vulnerable this year. While taxes remained level for 14 of the years that Vas has been in office, residents saw steep increases in 2006 and 2007 – one of which was a nearly 50 percent jump.

Diaz said that if she is elected, she would use her background in banking to perform a thorough department-by-department audit of the city’s spending. She said that she would focus on cutting costs and stabilizing taxes while re-evaluating the money being spent on revitalization projects.

Vas defended his record, “You can’t deny the changes that have occurred. Perth Amboy is a better place than it was 18 years ago.”

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